Turning left for First Class…

This would mark the halfway point in our qualification campaign for South Africa and also mean that we had played every team.  The maths so far had been really simple – played 4 won 4, and with Croatia and Ukraine already dropping points against other teams, England were in a very strong position.  By my reckoning 3 more wins would secure a place in the play off at least.  Ukraine have always been a team that flatters to decieve still too reliant on the old legs of Shevckenko.  In qualifying for Germany 2006 they had looked very impressive, but come the tournament themselves they froze, scraping through a group featuring Saudia Arabia and Tunisia before beating Switzerland on penalties in a game that few could remember because it was so dull before they fell at the Quarter Final stage, played off the park by Italy.

Many of the players from 2006 had retired but the team was going to be led up front by Liverpool misfit Voronin.  The pony tailed wonder had failed to settle in Merseyside, and his wife had been very vocal about the “quality” of the local amentities and attractiveness of the females (has she seen her husband’s hair?) so he was loaned out last summer to Hertha Berlin where he cannot stop scoring and is one of the reasons why they currently sit top of the Bundesliga.  There was no doubt England would take their threat seriously, and they would prove a much sterner test that Slovakia did on Saturday – a 4-0 win flattered them and was only useful for England to see how many sub’s could be subbed themselves (Heskey was replaced by Carlton Cole who was replaced by Peter Crouch who then was replaced by Michael Carrick).

There was always going to be a bit of a doubt with this game because of the G20 Protests going on in central London so I planned to get to the stadium earlier than normal, reasoning that I would be able to get a beer in the ground.  I was accompanied on this one by Kiwi Vicky – no stranger to alcohol and sport but never Football.  I guessed though that having taken Lolly to so many games and coped with her questions I would have all of the answers.  Hmm not quite.  

England 2 Ukraine 1 – Wembley Stadium, Wednesday 1st April

Another case of emergency hair treatment

Another case of emergency hair treatment

First mistake of the evening.  No beer.  Arriving at the group at 6.30pm, no queues to get in – magic!  Well the reason was simple – there was a FIFA ban on alcohol.  This is the same FIFA who have Budweiser as one of their main sponsors.  I broke the news gently to Vicky, who likes a beer or four and she reacted in the same way that a WAG would when told she had to get a proper job.  I placated her with chicken and chips (at a bargain of £8!) and we went and found our seats.  Fortunately for her, being only 3 foot 6 inches tall, we were in the second row from the front but that did mean we had no idea of persepctive at the other end.

Capello fielded as strong a team as he could, trying again to shoehorn Barry, Lampard and Gerrard into midfield with Crouch and Rooney up front.  Aaron Lennon was given another chance on the right and bizarrely David James started the game in goal.

The first half was frankly a bore.  We gave away too much possession, the midfield trio failed to spark and our full backs looked pedestrian.  David James almost gave the Ukranians a goal when he fumbled a simple free kick but it was Peter Crouch who took our one real chance of the first period, volleying home from close range (or from 30 yards from our view!) in the 30th minute.  Ukraine didn’t really threaten with Voronin falling over at each opportunity and at one point had to leave the field due to a broken hair band.

The second half only really came to life when the two AC Milan loan players entered the field.  On came David Beckham and Andrey Shevchenko with plenty of time to influence proceedings.  The Ukrainian was the first to make an impression volleying home an equaliser on 74 minutes which was a fair reflection of their growing influence on the game.  The goal did shock the team though and Rooney was certainly fired up for the task, committing one tackle that 99% of referees would have issued a straight red.  However, England did eventually get their winner and it was no surprise that Beckham had a hand in the goal as his free kick was headed down by Gerrard in the six yard box and John Terry bundled the ball home with less than 5 minutes on the clock.

Three points secured without flattering to deceive but it was a significant step onto the plane to South Africa next June.  As if it was so simple for us to get home.  The usual 40 minute queue to get to the tube station at Wembley Park meant that it actually took longer to get home from 15 miles away than it did from 150 miles away the previous night.  But who would build a major stadium without thinking of the crowd flows??  

 

About Wembley Stadium
The hype is finally over. After 6 ½ years, the New Wembley Stadium finally opened its doors to the paying public in March 2007. Despite years of delays, escalating budgets and enough rumours to fill an edition of a Sunday tabloid, the FA took control of the stadium on the 16th March 2007, and promptly set about arranging the necessary warm up events so that the FA Cup final between Chelsea and Manchester United on the 19th May 2007 could be hosted.

The original stadium – the Empire Stadium opened on the 28th April 1923 for the FA Cup Final between West Ham United and Bolton Wanderers when an estimated 200,000 fans squeezed in the 125,000 capacity stadium after building was finished at the last minute by Sir Robert McAlpine. The following year the stadium hosted its first international as England drew 1-1 with Scotland.

In those days the stadium was an oval bowl, with a running track around the outside, and two roofs that ran half way along each side. The stadium continued to host the FA Cup final, as well as international matches through out the Second World War – including a crowd of over 80,000 for a game against Scotland when air raids over London were a daily occurrence.

In 1948 the stadium was the host of the Summer Olympic Games – having originally been chosen to host the 1944 games. In 1951 possibly the most remarkable games in its short history took place between Pegasus and Bishop Auckland in the FA Amateur Cup Final. What made this so unique was that the crowd was 100,000! I can’t see that happening today for the FA Vase final some how – but such was the love of the English public for both football, and the stadium itself. In the 1950’s one of the biggest attended events at the stadium was Speedway, which despite being held on a regular basis since 1929, was now attracting crowds of over 120,000. Speedway continued at the stadium until the early 1980’s when a decision was made to stop after crowds dwindled.

The same is true of Greyhound racing. This started at the stadium in 1924 and was a very popular venue, with races being held 5 days a week at its peak. Attendances declined to such a point that during the 1980’s average attendances were less than 50, and a decision was made in 1988 to cease the events.

In terms of major events though, one football match will continue to dominate the history of the stadium. In 1966 England hosted the World Cup, and through a “carefully” planned draw, the stadium hosted all of their games. Without ever kicking into top gear, the team got to the World Cup Final, where in front of an estimated 40 million TV viewers, and over 100,000 paying spectators the team beat West Germany 4-2 after extra time to win their one and only World Cup Final.

Other big games held at the stadium include the European Cup Finals of 1968, when Manchester United beat Benfica, 1977 when Liverpool beat Brugge and 1992 when Barcelona beat Sampdoria. It also hosted the 1965 and 1993 European Cup Winners Cup. In 1998 and 1999 Arsenal also chose to move their Champions League games to the stadium, although the crowds didn’t exactly warm to the venue. The last major match played at the stadium was in October 2001 when Germany’s 1-0 win over England forced the hand of Kevin Keegan to resign as national manager.

The stadium has also hosted a number of sports including Rugby League’s Challenge Cup Final, Rugby Union Internationals (Wales used it as a base whilst the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff was being built), Show jumping, WWF Wrestling (80,000 watched this here in 1992) and of course the infamous London Monarchs American Football team who played in front of crowds of three figures on occasions in the late 1980’s. Sell out concerts have also taken place here – probably the most famous being Live Aid in 1995.

So what is it like today? The famous white Twin Towers have been replaced by a massive arch which is visible for over 20 miles away. Leg room and sightlines are built on the highest specification. Concourse facilities are plentiful and spacious. All of these features are perhaps expected for the £798million it cost the FA – thus making it the most expensive stadium constructed in the world today.

The stadium has been built as a monument to English Football, and will be the home venue for all future England Senior home matches for the next twenty years. The stadium will also host the major domestic finals, which including the Play Offs will number more than 10 per season. As of 2008, the stadium will also host the FA Cup Semi-Finals. The stadium will also host major concerts – such as George Michael and Muse in June 2007 as well as other events such as a regular season American Football game between the New York Giants and the Miami Dolphins in October 2007.

How to get to Wembley Stadium
Within a 10 minute walk of the stadium there are three stations which will carry the vast majority of fans. Wembley Park Tube station is on the Jubilee and Metropolitan tube lines. This station allows for a journey from central London (Bond Street) in around 25 minutes or from London Bridge in 35 minutes. The station is a 10 minute walk away up the historic Wembley Way.

Wembley Central Station is on the Bakerloo tube line as well as the Silverlink train line. The over ground train service links Wembley to London Euston in around 15 minutes. The station is a 15 minute walk away from the stadium. Wembley Stadium Station is located just behind the stadium, and has an access ramp direct onto the outer concourse. It is served on the Chiltern mainline link from London Marylebone.

The stadium is in travel zone 4, meaning a single ticket currently from zone 1 would be £4. A Daily travel card covering this zone would be £5.70 off peak for adults and £1 for children. National Express also run dedicated coaches from over 20 places around the country to Wembley for major events.

Finally, if you do intend to drive there, then there are no public car parks within a 15 minute walk from the stadium. The best option is to head to tube stations such as Stanmore where there is secure car parking.

Getting a ticket for Wembley Stadium
Ticket availability will depend on the event being staged. For the majority of England home internationals, tickets will be sold initially to the EnglandFans club members, and then to the general public. Where the stadium feel demand will outstrip supply, they may instigate a ballot system for the tickets, such as that used for England v Brazil in June 2007. In this instance check details on http://www.thefa.com. Ticket prices for England internationals will range from £25 in the family section in the lower tiers to £60 in the middle tier.

Ticketing arrangements for the major finals will be handled by the clubs concerned, and so you should check with them on availability – in general you will not have a problem getting a ticket for finals such as the Johnstone’s Paint, FA Trophy or the lower league play off finals.All other ticketing will be handled by either Ticketmaster – http://www.ticketmaster.com or by See Tickets – http://www.seetickets.com.

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